Neo-Psychedelia has become the fastest growing musical trend, and the genre that everyone who wants to be associated with. With that in mind, it’s easy to forget that it is people who make all of this possible and get the music out into the public domain in the first place.
Say Psych plans to address this issue by speaking to some of the labels most keenly associated with the best new Psychedelia emerging and finding more about the men and women who are taking the time and energy to makes this great music accessible.
We spoke with Johnny and Chris, the people behind the tour-de-force label Rocket Recordings, who celebrate their 20th Anniversary this year so it can be said, have always been ahead of the times. To accompany the anniversary, a showcase event is being held at The Garage, London over 9th/10th/11th March with an all star line up.
Guys, thanks very much for taking the time out to speak to BSM, we really appreciate it. First off, who’s involved with Rocket?
Johnny: At its core, Rocket is run by John O’Carroll (Bristol) & Chris Reeder (London) who’s backgrounds are both in graphic arts. Where possible and if band give us their blessing we both individually design the artwork of many of the releases, even creating videos or teasers, plus on occasion taking press photos and doing AV/lightshow work. It’s rewarding challenge to interpret the music into some visual content that we’ve always had hunger for & wanted to push the boundaries on. However we also have regular team of helpers we go to, to work on other jobs which running a label calls for, but we aren’t afraid to get stuck into to helping on the mail-order, we come from a DIY ethic, it’s been like that from the start.
What was your motivation to start a record label?
Johnny: Well Chris started the label with a friend of my Brothers who had a great record collection and is no longer involved with the label & I came in very soon after they started it, Chris & I were school friends from 3rd year Art, so it was inevitable we’d land up doing something with each other. The motivation was simply based around a deep appreciation of the shared experience of music, the same reason a lot of bands / projects based around music start, also the same reason some band survive with or without success, I’m endlessly fascinated what keeps sub cultures going, something of the human condition to lose yourself into something you believe in when others are completely miffed by it, that’s a wonderful thing, not to let the cynicism and other forces get to you.
Chris: Our good friend Gareth Turner (Now in Anththroprophh and Kuro) started his first band Lillydamwhite, and Simon and myself wanted to release this killer track they just wrote called Master F and as we were friends with The Heads too they said why not do a split so that was it, that was how it started. So I suppose the motivation was just us thinking we should do this as no one else will?
Why the psych rock (and associated) genre?
Johnny: In the beginning we might have started out as a more Psych Rock based label, that would have been based on influences of people’s record collections and owing to a lot of degree’s staff working in a few record shops in Bristol in the late 80’s- 90’s. Psych Rock being a term we soon fanned out way beyond. I think it was the influence of those Bristolian Record Shops in that period that was as the core of this. Members of The Heads who staffed Replay Records, Revolver Records who were manned by Flying Saucer Attack & Third Eye Foundation members, Fat Paul & his ever increasing hand over the Bristol scene, running everything from musical art events to nightclubs playing great 60’s music, Portishead, early Tricky & Massive Attack, being in a city living around the fringes of Rave culture, Regge & Dub, all the way to Metal & later Grunge exploding on the back of Punk. These were all bound to seep into to our ethos, Psych Rock was at its core about expanding rock based music, we wanted that expanse of music but to pull from all our influences.
Chris: Transportive music, whether it was heavy fuzz sounds or krautrock or acid house/rave was always a passion from my late teens, so ‘psych’ music was a strong go to ever since. So when we got to the time to release our first record it was those ‘psych’ier’ sounds that we looked for.
Where did the name come from?
Johnny: Firstly our love for space, be it scientific or imaginative, we were the generation that grew up with Nasa & Star Wars, we had a love for early Hawkwind and a lot of the German bands from that period, I’d grown up with Concorde, propulsion was in the psyche of Bristol, we liked the idea that we were out there probing the outer realms, every culture was welcome 😉
Chris: Well myself and Simon spent months looking for a name, none were right at all! Then, I found this 50s illustration of a rocket that recalled the classic Flash Gordon style and I showed it to Simon and said, I doubt we wanna call ourselves Rocket but I would like the logo to look like this? So we explored words around the idea of Rockets but none seemed right, so we ended just saying ‘sod it, the word Rocket works!’ So we sent the image and the name Rocket to San Fransisco artist Frank Kozik (famed for 80’s US gig posters) to create a logo based around the image and the name and that is exactly what he did! And we were always wary that Elton John’s label was Rocket Records, so we called ours Rocket Recordings. 🙂
Tell us a bit about the bands on the label, if you’re able to – you have
Johnny: Its hard to talk about anyone individually, I’m very proud of releasing albums from bands across the world, in a period when people seemed to be regressing into their village mentality we don’t have those borders. We work with new bands, people who we’ve worked with for the entire 20 years off & on, one releases, bands where we’ve released many albums, can’t say how it works, I guess if you connect you connect, simple.
Chris: We I feel extremely privileged to have the bands we have on our label, they are all amazing and we are humbled by their art. We truly believe we have some of the best and most interesting bands out there right now on Rocket! But tbh, the most important thing for us is the people in the bands. We can truly say we are rich with the friendships we have had with all these amazingly talented people
Did you have a vision for where you wanted the label to go and if so, has your 20 years lived up to that vision?
Chris: No, no vision at all. We released a 7″, then another, then another, we wanted John Peel to play them (and he did, even opened his show with one once) and that was what quantified success, if Peel played it! So no, the drivers for the label has always been completely organic and reactionary and we have kept going down to the amazing bands we have met and the amazing albums we have had the chance to put out.
So with that in mind, has their been a highlight to date?
Johnny: Goat – World Music, an amazing album that landed at the right place at the right time.
Chris: Well for me there have been many of the years, but I suppose the success of Goat has to be the biggest as it was a game changer for us and again it was something truly organic, it wasn’t a marketing led success, which for me makes it even more triumphant.
On the flip side, have there been any disasters/downsides/lies?
Johnny: Disasters, well we’ve never really had major incidents that I’ve dwelled on looking back now, maybe at the time decisions effected us, but we survived on through, although in the 1st 10 years we were close to things not going to plan, but that was part of it, we didn’t have the internet to lull us into a sense of bigger importance, so kept grounded. Some short sightedness in some people’s eye, possibly, but those made us more determined. At the start in the early years it was more local Bristol based, the scene, the bands, we came at it from a DIY standpoint, never been taught via college course so naturally we were going to make mistakes.
Chris: For the most of it everything has all gone quite well, there was one moment when things went to shit when we got let down by someone but in general it has gone well, we have just learnt from our mistakes as we have gone and that has made us more aware of the pitfalls.
So what can we expect in 2018?
Johnny: Lots of amazing records from across the spectrum of ‘psych’ in its boldest sense, old artists, new ones we’ll be starting to work with, very exciting times.
Chris: Well we have the aforementioned masterpiece by Anthroprophh. Debut Rocket releases by MIEN, Bonnacons of Doom, VED and Gum Takes Tooth. There is a new Gnod in the works and a new Lay Llamas album on its way. And we have Teeth of the Sea, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Housewives, Josefin Öhrn all working on new material as we speak. So looking like a busy birthday year for us!
Fantastic, can’t wait to hear some of those releases, very exciting times! And finally, what are Rocket’s plans for the future?
Johnny: Audio & Visual Augmented Realities…
Chris: Surviving as physical sales shrink further!